The Revolutions of Time
By Jonathan Dunn
Public Domain Books
Chapter 10: Devolution
When I awoke the sun was once more out in its morning glory, at the height it assumes at about the 9 o’clock hour, and the room was warm and cozy because of it, as it shone in through the glass walls. My first sensation upon waking was one of peace and bliss, the feeling experienced when you wake up late to a nice warm resting place, especially so when all the rest of the world is hard at work and you are not. I breathed in the air deeply and contentedly while stretching my arms, legs, and back in a most relieving fashion, and then turned towards the table in the center of the room, from whence I smelled an extremely appealing smell, that of a hearty breakfast.
As I did so, however, my joy was sent to a bitter, premature death, for there sitting at the table and smiling sardonically at me was the King, arrayed in all his pomp and splendor with his powerful pose, which, while it had impressed, and even to a point overwhelmed me, before, did no such thing to me now, for I was fresh with indignation at the exclusion of the humanoids across the sea from the paradise of Daem.
He saluted me in a polite manner, and I him, though there was little affection behind it. Then, without any more ceremony, I sat down and began to eat, repulsing any attempt of his to start a conversation with persistent vigor, until I had finished, when I stood and demanded where exactly I was to make my toiletry. He laughed and said that he was wondering how long I would last, but as I was still too unpleasant to respond with any familiarity, he showed me to a little room that was tucked off of the side of the bell that formed the entrance to the domed chambers of the upper tower. The top of the tower itself was a half complete sphere, while the room only occupied the upper half, so that the bottom was divided between the entry way and the toiletry room. I spent a few moments grooming and washing myself and preparing for the day, and then rejoined him in the room. He was still sitting on his chair and I took the other. The meal had been carried away.
He began the conversation by saying, “My dear Jehu, I must apologize for keeping you in this position, but you must understand that the outcome of this war is very serious, and I will not risk it to your sensationalism.”
“Sensationalism!” returned I, “Is that how you would describe a touch of humanity?”
“What do you mean?” he questioned, apparently interested in what I said.
“Well,” I began, regaining myself, my former indignation being exhausted by the spirit of my opening comments, and my normal sober reasoning returning, “I have been observing your society, which you suppose to be enlightened, but I have seen some things, which, I am afraid, are evidences of the opposite.”
“For one, your common folk engage in the most violent entertainment. I saw a vicious game being played not far from here, in the plaza below. There were two sides, and they rushed at each other in a rage and clashed when they met until one side tackled the other. This went on for some time, the evident point of the sport being to gain points by making it so that one of the opposing players cannot get up at the end of a round. It was so brutal that I was disgusted and could watch no more.”
“Yes, I see what you mean,” the King replied, “I myself would much rather that such games would be forsaken, but the people really enjoy it. I must remind you, as well, that your society had the same type of thing, as did every other before it. It was football for you, gladiators for the Romans, and so forth.”
“But I thought that you had no traditions? That you were more enlightened than those of the past? You can hardly excuse your misconduct by reminding one of the misconduct of another, especially when you claim to disclaim the errors of history, or at least, that altered and redefined thing that you call history.”
“You are right, I have to admit,” he conceded, “But let me remind you that it is a static characteristic of humanity to confuse the ends with the means. When an intense effort is applied, the melodramatic tendency is to honor that effort, despite its uselessness, instead of honoring the product of the effort rather than the effort itself. But, you are right, I admit, for we have still a few places left to refine in the common folk.”
Feeling vainglorious at my victory, I pursued him further, “I also observed that your womenfolk wear face coverings in public, which is most certainly a thing of the past.”
“I must disagree with you there Jehu,” he said, evidentially regaining his confidence and sense of moral footing, “For even in your own time the womenfolk all wore masks and face coverings.”
I was taken aback and cried, “Most certainly they did not, your history books may say so, but I, dear sir, was alive and would know best!”
“What, then,” he coolly replied, with a sharp grin that reeked of self- confidence, “Would you call all the messes of make-up and perfume and other such things which they were virtually forced to wear? I see nothing different between wearing face coverings and transplanting an entirely new face, hair, and body on oneself everyday. In fact, our women got together and decided voluntarily to do so, for the very reason that if an artificial covering must be put on, it might as well be one that is easy, for why spend an hour or more a day to change one’s appearance, when it can be done in moments with a head covering? That is a great time saver for us. And why spend the resources to research, produce, and market massive amounts of facial paint to cover up the face when it is possible to put a covering on and get the same effect much, much easier? It is only logical.
“And in general, Jehu,” he pursued, warming to the subject matter, “I find the oppression of women in your time to be quite appalling. You seemed to think that the liberation of women consisted in transforming them into loveless, materialistic thugs, into workaholics whose only desire is wealth, into aggression driven beings that possessed little shred of real humanity, into, in a word, men. I think it would have been a much better endeavor to have attempted to change men into women.”
I was taken aback by his eloquent defense of the treatment of women in his society, and felt, I must admit, a little impressed by his arguments, seeing as how it did make more sense to wear a head covering than to paint on a face every morning. Still, I desired to let him see that traditions aren’t all that bad, just as they aren’t all that good, and, as I had still won one point out of two so far, I felt it safe to move on to my main argument against his humanistic preponderance.
“You are right there, I admit, but tell me, your majesty,” I said with a slow, scoffing voice, meant to show that I had a powerful point to make, and as if I had to go slow enough for him to comprehend the eloquence of my speech, “Why, if you are so enlightened and progressive, so humanitarian and merciful, why do you keep a whole race of people, of human beings, stranded on the far shore, able to see the goodness of Daem’s plush lands, but unable to visit them? How can you justify the keeping of people in such conditions when it is in your power to relieve them?”
He sobered up more than he already was and answered in his most dignified voice, one calculated to stop opposition by its very graces, “Their plight is unfortunate, but as they are not my subjects, it is none of my concern.”
“So you knew of them, but did not care. How typical of powerful men. What are they called?”
“Munams,” he answered, “Is what we call them, though people of your time had a different name for them, Neanderthal, if I am correct.”
My intrigue superseded my conviction and I asked interestedly, “But, how is that possible? The Neanderthals were the ancestors of men in my time, and the men of my time were the ancestors of the men of this time, how could they be living now?”
“Very simply, for your scientists and philosophers did not understand the revolution of time, and what they thought was evolution was in fact devolution. You see, when they found all the fossils and other such evidence for evolution, they interpreted it to mean that they had evolved from lesser organisms. Since they didn’t know that time repeats itself over and over again, ages of time being like the years of the earth, it was actually the remains of the age before them that they thought were the remains of their ancestors. In truth, instead of a great comet hitting the earth and destroying the dinosaurs and many other living beings, it was the Great Wars, the nuclear wars, that caused all the damage. And since their perception of the events was backward, instead of the blasts destroying the dinosaurs and the wholly mammoths, it was what actually created them, for, you see, after the nuclear weapons had all been used, everything in the world died, or came very close to it, all that is, except Daem, which thrived, because of the delcator beetles.
“There were no ’dinosaurs’, only Zards, for when the radiation levels were still high and unstable, we grew to enormous sizes, and likewise there were no wholly mammoths, but Canitaurs. And the Neanderthals that appeared shortly after were not the precursors to humans at all, but the Munams, who survived on the mainland near Daem because of the corrected atmosphere, but who were mutilated more than we by the increased corruption across the sea. The Ice Ages, also, were not as you thought, but instead mark the position in the last age after the doom of humanity was played out and everything destroyed. The Big Bang, also, was not at the beginning, but at the very end, being somehow related to the onset of the Ice Ages. Your evolutionary theories were close, but the time tables were rearranged to fit the facts, since time was thought to be linear.
“That is where our main trouble lies, Jehu, for through geological and biological evidences, even more advanced than those collected during your times, we can tell that something happens at this very period of history that will wipe all life from the face of the earth for a long period of time, many thousands of years, until somehow they start to reproduce and grow once more into what they are now. Something very powerful happens, even more devastating than the nuclear wars, when all the nations of the world used their entire stock of weapons. Our problem is how to prevent it, and a great problem it presents, indeed. You see, while we would wish to be confident of success, since we know generally what to expect, we know through research that there have been many, many ages before us in which the same thing has happened. That is why the geological layers have always been found to be strangely misaligned, with fossils from an earlier period here and with a later period there. That is why things like tree fossils are found in coal mines, where they shouldn’t be, and why in general, the evidence found in the ground doesn’t fit a consistent pattern.”
As he finished, I could say nothing, for his revelation was sobering to me, bringing me suddenly back to the realization that our doom was impending, that every decision I made had the potential to either bring us to safety, or to supply the necessary force to hurl us viscously off the cliff of mortality. He was silent as well and allowed me a few moments of meditation to turn his speech in my mind. As is my tendency, I looked abstractly out the window as I thought, fixing my subconscious focus on the road that ran from the northern gate down through the city, the road which formed half of the plaza beneath the temple. A moment or two passed like a solemn parade of mourning, then, suddenly, or at least quite unexpected by myself, a party of Canitaurs came walking down the northern road, unharassed and unescorted through the heart of the city. Since they came freely, I knew that they were not prisoners, but still I was perplexed at how a party of them came to be allowed in Nunami at all under such pretexts, especially as they had attempted to bring it to ruin but a few days before.
The King saw their coming and my interest in them, and said in a way of explanation, “There is to be a council today between the Zards and Canitaurs, with you present, of course. Our war has rampaged for quite some time, but we are forced to peace in light of our impending doom, brought by circumstances outside of ourselves. We will decide tonight, or tomorrow, what action to take. It is a grim time, you can be sure, my dear Jehu, when Zards and Canitaurs meet in peace, a grim time indeed.”
He said that very importantly, with an air of fright in his voice, as one who knows his end is near, for both him and his loved ones. There was another moment of silence as he reflected on the meaning of his words, and then he rose and beckoned me to follow him. We made our way through the bottom half of the room and down the long flight of stairs that wound down the great tower in the Temple of Time. When we reached the bottom, we went again into the long room with the bookshelves, the table, and the altar to Temis. Already there waiting for us were the Canitaur emissaries, Wagner and Bernibus.
They rose to greet me, bowing low in a deferential manner, more out of forced respect than awe, at least on Wagner’s part, and after the customary blessing that followed, we all sat down at the long wooden table that stretched lengthwise through the room. Wagner and Bernibus took their chairs on one side and the King and myself on the other, he and Wagner being opposite each other, and Bernibus and me being the same; the King and I were facing the altar and the White Eagle that held it.
There was a moment of silence as we took our seats, and it continued for another moment as everyone sat in an awkward situation. As there was no one else in the room besides the four of us, and as Wagner seemed disinclined to begin, the King opened up our conference with the following statement:
“Well, dear sirs, what can I say, except that I am glad that you have finally condescended to seek a mutual agreement on the actions which are about to ensue, and that I hope that our conference will be productive and informative. Before we begin, I will outline the rules of the debate and of the conference, which were agreed upon before the military action of the recent past,” here he looked at Wagner with the look of a judge who supposes himself morally superior to the criminal in his holding, “And by which we will still govern the council, despite the sudden change in circumstances. The rules are as follows: The decision shall be made by the votes of the three parties involved, namely the Zards, the Canitaurs, and Jehu, the kinsman redeemer. A majority of two votes is required to decide which of the paths will be taken: the Futurist or the Pastite. As is clearly obvious, my dear Jehu, I shall vote Futurist, and Wagner shall vote Pastite, and it is up to you to cast the decisive vote. You are the kinsman redeemer, and for all intents and purposes, you will be the sole decider of the fate of humanity. It is a great responsibility, but one that you were chosen for by the child of Temis, the God of Time. Wagner and myself will each make our cases, though you know them by now, and then you will have all night to decide and you will tell us your decision in the morning,” thus concluded the King’s opening address.
Before anyone else could follow it up, I interjected, “But I was sent by Onan to do his work on earth, wouldn’t it only make sense for me to choose the way of Onan?”
The King answered me, saying, “You were sent by Temis, the God of Time, Jehu, for Onan and Zimri are his children who do his work for him, but they only have the powers that he gave them. Onan is the only one able to speak to mortals, for he is in the past, while Zimri is in the future, but Onan also speaks for Zimri, because he is told what to say by Temis, whose agents they both are as much as you are Onan’s. Isn’t that so, Wagner?”
Wagner sighed in the affirmative, and when he had done so, I asked him pointedly, “Why didn’t you tell me? You led me to believe that Onan was the one who sent me, and by his own power.”
Here the King put in, “He merely wanted to prejudice you to his own side, Jehu. He attempted to by-pass our peace treaty of long ago when he tried to attack us and capture this very temple for his own plans. We agreed twenty-five years ago to do it this way, because enough blood had been shed, and no good had come from it. He violated it when he took you into hiding, using our pursuit after his treachery as justification. But come, in the face of impending doom we cannot squabble over past wrongs, but must move to prevent future disaster from striking.”
“What is so important about this Temple of Time, though?” I asked.
Wagner and the King mumbled together that “It was an essential part of the restoration of Daem”, but would not elaborate, saying that it was unimportant to the present troubles. They looked guilty as they said it, though of what I did not know. I was reminded of my indignation at their ignoring of the sufferings of the Munams and became once more impatient with their self-importance, so I yielded the floor and they began to make their cases. In order to decide who went first, they drew lots, and as the shorter was drawn by Wagner, he went first. His speech is as follows:
“The past is constant, Jehu. It has happened and is secure in its place, explored and known. The traditions and customs of our people are steadfast and immovable, for they have survived the ages like a mountain that is untouched by the weather. They have lasted so long not because of the mere namesake of tradition, but because they work, because they have worked thousands of times before, and because we know they will work a thousand times in the future. What was good enough for the generations before us is good enough for us and our children. A tradition, or taboo, is not formed by the decision of some contemporary council as a means to control others via social restrictions, for if it was it would never have lasted, instead it is formed because of experience, because when something goes beyond it the result is temporary pleasure, the nectar of the fruits of rebellion, but when the rebellious desires have faded, what is left is rotten and decayed.
“It brings only more desires for rebellion and more thirst for the forsaking of traditions, and it will not be satisfied. Then another taboo will be broken, but this also will not quench the desires of the rebellious, who do what they do not for any independent purpose, but only from a desire to break traditions and taboos and to be different than their forebears. But there is no satisfaction in rebellion, only in obedience. Obedience not to some alien divinity, not to some social supremest, not to the blind devotion of parental mandates, but obedience to common sense, to practicality, to morality. For a taboo is not formed by any one person, instead it is slowly built up upon the experiences of many, experiences which show that when one thing is done, suffering is what follows, and when another thing is done, happiness is what follows. Of course there are a few, isolated taboos that are based instead on human prejudices, but that doesn’t translate into the abandonment of all the experience of precedents. What comes when there are no longer any taboos and traditions to break? Destruction. For as is seen time and again, the rebellion of societies gains momentum, and while their consequences are slow in gathering, in the end they multiply and force those societies over the edge of power, bringing only suffering and ruin.
“And not only are the experiences of the past wielded together into that euphoria that eludes the rebellious–wisdom–but its constant state controls the present and the future. What men have seen in the past leads them in their future actions, and as a result, it is not the future that controls the present and defines the past, but it is the past which controls the present and defines the future. What sense is there in abandoning the mountain of wisdom that the past has built up and leaping blindly into hazy, unknown actions and institutions? The past is steady, Jehu, and it is known; it is the only sensible way." Thus spoke Wagner.
It was then the King’s turn, and he said as follows:
“The past is the past, not the present nor the future, its time has been spent, its part in the theater of life is over, it is extinct. Jehu, Wagner speaks of us as rebelliously breaking taboos that were formed by our forefathers, but that is not true. In the present more is known than was known in the past, they had outdated views and opinions, and their ideologies were vulgar and unsophisticated. At present we are more knowledgeable, more refined than what has gone before. The people of the past waged unjust wars. They had superstition and prejudices that clouded their visions of morality, and the product of that is a large amount of taboos and precedents and traditions that are immoral or meaningless. Now is the age of enlightenment, now and never before is the future at hand, mixing with the present as we learn more and more about our world. We are progressive, learning and growing in philosophy and lifestyle.
“If those of the past were so upright and wise, than why are they not still among the living? If they were so powerful, then why are they now extinct? The past is gone, but the future is yet to come, it still holds tangible pleasures, not memories, it has promise and potential, while the past is only the ruins of the same. When the past is looked back upon, it is small and immaterial, it is like time crumpled up into a wad of memories, and a time yesterday or a thousand years ago looks the same, for it is past, it is no more. Life is not short, but in retrospect it seems to be, and its memories are distant, as they float like fish in the oceans of time, lacking both definition and scale, and hanging lifelessly around in random arrays. Every moment is of the same length, but a moment in the past is nothing, its thoughts and emotions are nothing, they are gone and useless to the present, while a moment in the future is long and touchable. A thought that is past is as nothing, and it is forgotten, for the past and the future are like a one-way mirror, you can look forward into the future, but looking into the past you can see only the present reflected back at you. What good are the joys or sorrows of yesterday? They are as far removed as those of a thousand years ago, but it is the joys and sorrows of tomorrow that loom the largest. Why look into the past for completion, when it is found only in the future?” Thus spoke the King.
Once both of them had finished there was a short pause, each reflective and absorbed with his own thoughts. At last the King broke through the still waters of the moment and sent his rippling voice across its formless surface, which revived at once and was joined by many others, until the outward expression of consciousness sent the waters of the mind again into their complex and interwoven dances. He spoke in the department of host and concluded the short session with these words, “Now the cases are stated, though but briefly, for they were already well-known. As planned prior to the infractions of the treaty, we will adjourn for the night, and in the morning Jehu will deliver his verdict, whether we undo our problem through the future, or through the past.”
We all rose and Bernibus, my only friend on the island, came up to me and warmly embraced me, while Wagner and the King conversed formally a few yards away. When they were not looking and our backs were turned to them, Bernibus slipped me a piece of paper that was rolled up into a tight scroll. Seeing his caution and secrecy, I quickly stashed it in the inside of my shirt, where it could not be seen. I was alarmed at the momentary expression of his face, which showed that he was greatly worried about me, and made me very interested in what the paper would contain. His face quickly returned to its original countenance, an impermeable barrier to his insides, and no one except myself had any inclination about what had happened. The other two turned towards us, and quickly made their farewells, Wagner and Bernibus departing for their quarters, and the King to escort me back to my prison.
He took my arm in his genially, though only superficially so, for he still had a subdued sense of distrust about him, and we went through the door to the long, circling stairway from whence we had come. As we ascended we engaged in small talk, the usual meaningless pleasantry, which I assume you have probably had enough of in your experiences to allow me to dispense with relating it, for it was of no weight in any of the circumstances that I found myself in, and I especially was not interested in it, as the paper given to me by Bernibus claimed my whole attention, and filled me with an anticipation and mystery of what it might contain. I kept up the small talk with the King merely to allay any suspicions he might have had, though he had none. After a seeming eternity we reached the top, and once there I stepped into my chambers, as the King jestingly called them. We bade each other goodnight, which was followed by the metallic click of the door locking, and the sound his footsteps as he descended and made his way to his palace.